L&LR staff blog

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The Business of persistent links

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Academic librarians are unhappy that some of the UK’s largest university business schools are being asked to pay extra to be allowed to link to articles published in a key journal in their field.

Harvard Business Review (issn:0017-8012), published by HBP (Harvard Business Press), has long been available as part of the EBSCOhost Business Source suite of databases.

However, in an email to the chair of the BBSLG (British Business Schools Librarians Group), EBSCO outlined that, as a vendor of HBP’s content, they are obliged to disable persistent linking to Harvard Business Review, at the publisher’s request.

According to EBSCO, the terms & conditions of their supply of HBP content have always included a clause limiting use of the journal to individual, private study, and explicitly prohibiting linking from Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) for teaching purposes.

Three libraries have already had their facility to create persistent links removed, according to the BBSLG, who have written a letter of complaint to EBSCO.

A flyer circulated by EBSCO ‘invites’ individual BBSLG member-libraries to upgrade their EBSCOhost Business Source subscriptions to a level which would “continue to allow [the institution] to persistent link to HBR articles for an additional annual fee“: each institution’s fee being calculated on past use of the journal and their business-school student numbers.

For one, Russell Group, UK university, EBSCO have demanded £15,000 in order that the institution be allowed to go on creating persistent links for use in teaching.

According to correspondence between EBSCO and the BBSLG, Harvard Business Press are concerned that unauthorised persistent-linking from VLEs to EBSCOhost has harmed HBP’s separate provision of course packs for HEIs on a commercial basis. They cite a “direct quantifiable link between the two which can be clearly demonstrated financially between the diminishing course pack use and persistent linking“.

Should institutions decline the opportunity to pay the additional EBSCOhost fee, EBSCO asks that they inform their users that persistent-linking from a VLE to the HBR is not permitted, and that EBSCO may disable the ability to create such links.

This will not only remove the ability of academic staff to create links from a VLE, but also break any persistent links to the e-journal created by individuals in the course of their own personal study or research.

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This is a retrograde step for usability in online scholarly content. Storing, recalling, and broadcasting stable hyperlinks is fundamental to the Web. It is not an add-on or a luxury.

Private, subscription-only environment it may be, but users of EBSCOhost [remembering that this includes fee-paying students] have had the rug pulled from under a basic Web experience. It may currently affect only one journal title, in one database, but this is a dangerous precedent, and one that the library community has a right to question and challenge.

Paul